The Snow is Deep -- and the Skiing is Great!
Posted January 31, 2011

I was fortunate to get out three times this week. The weather through Friday was fairly warm and the skiing fast and furious. Man do I love good grooming on fast powder snow!

Saturday ushered in new snow, over a foot in the mountains, and cold weather. We skied in fresh powder snow in temps just below zero on Sunday.

Because of the heavy new snowfall and cold temps we skied classic in the morning. The groomers were catching up with the new snow and by noon everything was in pretty good shape. Yes, there was about 3 inches of powder on the groomed surface of those trails hit early in the morning but I'd rather have that than rain like a few weeks ago.

I didn't glide wax my classic skis this week but they did pretty good in the cold snow. For grip I used Rode Special Green and Jen and Ron used Toko Mint. We all had good grip.

The trees were flocked once again and the forest was beautiful.

Nancy got out to ski with us this weekend. This was her first ski with her new hip. In the photo above Nancy leads Jen and Ron down the River Trail at Izaak Walton Inn.

We skied the River Trail. It turned out this was the last trail to be groomed. Our skis were buried in the snow for the first kilometer. Then the groomer passed us and the skiing got real nice.

There is a short side trail down to the Middlefork of the Flathead River. Ron and I decided to take a look. This trail makes three steep drops to reach the river.

The river was still running high from the previous rains and warm weather and the new cold brought a bunch of ice floes. This trail offers views quite different from everything else at Izaak Walton. Just remember you'll have to negotiate those steep downhills and then climb back up if you want to see the river.

I'll finish this week's post with another "Life in Montana" photo. Here's a view of US Hwy 2 during our drive back over Marias Pass on our way home. Typical winter driving scene in Montana.

Only 26 Days 'til the Birkie! Wow! Less than 4 weeks!!!!

Posted January 24, 2011

If you read my posts from last weekend you know that the weather was not so good. Heavy rain fell on a deep snowpack. Even some mid range elevations had rain. Higher up there was snow but it was wet and heavy.

This created some pretty severe avalanche conditions. As Nancy and I were driving to the west side of the mountains this weekend we could see numerous avalanche paths where the snow had really run.

We drove the US Highway 2 corridor across the mountains. This route also has the main line of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway. Amtrak trains also use this route twice daily.

Amtrak's eastbound Empire Builder enroute to Marias Pass on the Continental Divide passes the Izaak Walton Inn.

The railroad crosses several avalanche chutes. To protect the trains from catastrophe sturdy sheds or tunnels are constructed at the bottom of those chutes. The tracks are inside these snowsheds. The idea is that avalanches coming down the mountain will go over the tracks while the trains can continue to run underneath.

A snowshed near Snowslip protects the rail lines from big avalanches.

The photo above shows just what can happen. The snowshed is clearly visible as a dark horizontal line at the bottom of the sow chute. The avalanche path above has unloaded within the last week. The shed is partially buried but the trains can continue to run.

Meanwhile on the east side of the mountains in Glacier National Park things looked pretty pleasant. Even the wind was almost, but not quite, calm.

Only 33 Days 'til the Birkie!

Skiing Hard Pack
Posted January 24, 2011

5-6 inches of new snow fell on a firm base at Izaak Walton Inn. The temps were hovering right around 32 F when the groomer went out at daybreak. It was interesting because the snow low in the valley was dry and powdery. It groomed up well but the trail was soft all day.

Snow higher in the valley, where one might expect cooler dryer snow conditions, was wet and sticky. The groomer had a hard time with this stuff. The result was a fairly firm surface. And to complicate things the wet snow balled up under the groomer resulting in a hard packed and lumpy surface.

Hard pack snow with a bunch of skate tracks or hard pack with a bumpy surface are the most difficult surfaces for me to ski on. I tried to ski with patience up high over the bumps and lumps but it was still tough. Then as I skied down lower in the valley the snow became soft and my skis kind of plowed some.

I waxed with Toko Low Fluoro Red mixed with Toko Low Fluoro Yellow. It seemed a little draggy or sticky though. My skis definitely did not glide as well as I would have liked. Again snow temps varied from 32 F to 30 F and powder to hardpack.

Needless to say I got my exercise. But I wondered how I might improve my skiing on that hardpack up high.

It might be that Atomic has an answer. At least one worth trying. I received an email from LaNora (Eagle River Nordic) about a new ski that she wants Steve and I to test.

The Atomic World Cup HT ski is specifically designed to ski hard icy track, and according to Atomic making hard and icy track seem like skiing soft corduroy. Almost sounds too good to be true. I'm definitely looking forward to giving those skis a try.

In the mean time I'm hoping for cooler conditions and more powder!

Only 33 Days 'til the Birkie!

Good Skiing - Crappy Weather
Posted January 17, 2011

I managed to get in some good skiing last week even with the bizarre weather.

Guthrie Peak above the valley of Jones Creek.

I did a backcountry ski up Jones Creek just west of my house on Tuesday. The snow was crusty with a few inches of powder over the top. Maybe the skiing wasn't that good but the scenery was fine.

On Wednesday I skied at Izaak Walton Inn. The thick heavy snow of the previous weekend was frozen, groomed and covered with fresh groomed powder. It was in the 20s when I left home. I thought I'd have a fresh groomed powder snow surface to ski on and temps that were perfect for a nice long skate session.

Well it didn't quite work that way. Conditions at the Inn were quite different. It was +2 F and snowing very hard. The freshly groomed trails were already covered by 4-6 inches of new snow.

I changed my plans and decided to classic ski. Just in case I waxed my classic skis the night before with some Swix Blue Extra. Thinking this wax might be a little too soft I added some Rode Multigrade Special Blue over the top. It turned out to be a perfect wax job. I skied for about 3 hours in the falling snow. Glide was not so much in the deep powder but grip was fine. It was a winter wonderland ski even if I didn't look to good at the finish.

I must have been breathing hard to collect all this crud.

My third trip was a three day stay over the weekend at the Inn. This was Ski Fest Weekend and I was scheduled to give lessons throughout the day Saturday and part of the day Sunday. And there would be plenty of time for skiing as well.

I had an adventuresome drive over Friday afternoon. See the following post for the harrowing details. Arriving at the Inn I found temps to be around +37 F and rain.

This did not deter me and I got in a hour of good skiing before dark.

The rain continued throughout the weekend. But the groomers did a nice job and the skiing was really nice.

It's always fun for me to see folks try the sport of cross country skiing for the first time. They are usually pretty wobbly but by the time our lesson is done most of them are able to get down some easy hills, make a few turns and cruise the green trails.

Beginners in the lesson area gain balance and control while skiing without poles.

After the lesson sessions were over I finished each day with some skate skiing. The groomed wet corn snow was fast and control was good. I definitely managed to wear myself out each day.

It might have been better if it hadn't rained so much. But you should never think that just because it is raining the skiing would not be good. I applaud those that came out and enjoyed the snow in the less that ideal weather. Everyone still had a good time.

Only 40 Days 'til the Birkie!

Life in Montana!
Posted January 17, 2011

I ended last week's post with the term, "That's life in Montana!" Well here's a couple more examples.

Wild fluctuations in temperature over short time intervals have been the rule. I checked our weather station before retiring around 9 pm last Thursday. The outside temperature was 0 F. At 6 am the next morning the temperature was -3 F. Nothing unusual there. But my weather station charts the temperature and records daily highs and lows. It indicated that it was 44 F at 2:45 in the morning. Now that is unusual.

I was scheduled to teaching skiing at the Izaak Walton Inn over the weekend. I was searching the web for weather and road conditions for my 2 hour drive. It was -2 F at my house. and the Road Weather Information System sensor at East Glacier showed it was -6 F there and snowing. The RWIS sensor at Essex indicated 37 F and rain. Hmmmm!

I made the 90 minute drive to East Glacier and it indeed was snowing heavily. Visibility was OK but the highway was slippery snowpack and ice. The snow looked fluffy and I'll bet the temperature was still below zero.

As I continued west from East Glacier on US 2 the snow and poor road conditions continued.

Further west I began climbing a long hill near Lubec Lake. Within about 100 feet I went from zero degree air with dry snow into very warm air with wet snow falling.

Since my vehicle had been in the cold so long it acted like a condenser. The moisture in the warm air condensed and froze on my windows. I could see nothing in front, to the sides or behind me. Everything was covered in frost. I knew that there were at least two vehicles behind me and I didn't want to brake very hard fearing they'd run into me. And did I mention that the road was a sheet of ice!

I braked lightly and began to slow. At the same time I frantically tried to clear my windshield. Just as a small spot of vision appeared to the front as I ran off the road into the plow berm.

Once the rig stopped I just sat there for a minute to collect my wits. Then I tried to open the drivers side door. The door wouldn't budge. Totally amazed I found myself off the road on the left side. I was sure glad no one was coming the other direction when I drifted across the eastbound lane. That would have been really interesting.

I had no idea where the two vehicles following me had gone.

I tried to back out of the berm but I was stuck pretty good. Even with 4-wheel drive I could not move.

I crawled over to the passenger door, got out and went to the back of my rig to get my shovel. I had only dug a few scoops when another vehicle stopped to help. Then a second guy stopped. We used the tow rope I always carry and the second fellow pulled me out of the berm.

A few scratches and dings to my rig will be reminders of this harrowing experience.

Only 40 Days 'til the Birkie!

Skiing Crud
Posted January 10, 2011

The Approach:
I came back to the living late in the week. By Saturday I was feeling pretty good so I decided to join Jen and Ron for a ski at Izaak Walton Inn. It was almost an epic adventure.

I left home with the temp right at 32 degrees and the wind blowing a skiff of snow. Travel north was OK until I got through Browning, Montana. Heading west on US 2 from Browning it began to snow. It was not yet light and visibility was poor. The snow got heavy the the visibility decreased even more.

Coming up a long hill I spotted something dark in the road that was not moving. At first I thought it was a stalled vehicle but then I saw all the legs. Yep, there were about 20 horses smack dab in the middle of the road. Fortunately, with the heavy snow falling I was going slow enough to avoid those critters.

A little farther west things got worse. The snow was wet and the flakes were huge. Visibility occasionally reached zero and I considered turning around. Ahhh! There was no where to turn around safely anyway so I kept heading west. I went through East Glacier in a white out. Finally in the mountains the snow let up just enough for me to see where I was going. A little daylight helped some too.

The Ski:
Once at Izaak Walton Inn I discovered that the forecast overnight snow was mostly rain and the trails were pretty mushy and ungroomable. But now it was snowing hard -- those big wet flakes that pile up the inches quickly.

We decided to try skating hoping that the new snow would make things better but not be so deep as to make skating impossible. Things didn't quite work out that way but we all definitely got our exercise.

First let me replay this skiing sequence from a year or so ago.

Jen is skiing a nice relaxed V-1 on the Starlight trail. Poling as she steps onto a new gliding ski and pushed off with the other ski. After the pushoff her leg recoveres with a nice pendulum motion until it is under her hips. Well that is pretty much how it should be.

Not today though. The new heavy wet snow was about 2 inches deep in the valley near the trailhead but as we skied higher up the valley the fresh snow got deeper. Maybe 4 inches of wet heavy snow covered the trail up higher and it was snowing very hard. That would still have been fine for skating except that the roomed surface underneath was soft and mushy.

Transferring weight to the new ski caused that ski to immediately sink through the new snow and down into the mush. Glide, needless to say, was mostly nonexistent.

In order to ski at all we had to make some extreme modifications to our technique. As you can see here the nice relaxed recovery of the rear leg was impossible. Since that ski was buried in the mush it had to be lifted out of the snow. Glide was almost zero. It definitely was a challenge to maintain some semblance of good technique, to try to use a variety of techniques and to keep some forward momentum.

I always say, "Any skiing is better than no skiing!" The snow was beautiful and it continued falling hard. We challenged ourselves and still managed to have a pretty darn good time.

After about 12 kilometers though we came to the conclusion that:

  • We had been out for almost 3 hours,
  • We had skied for 2 hours (lots of breaks), and
  • We had probably gotten 4 hours of exercise!

So we retreated to the lodge for lunch. As we were heading in we discovered that the close in Starlight trail was firmer under the new snow than the trails farther from the lodge. This was probably because that trail is groomed more frequently as the groomer has to run over it every time it goes out.

After lunch Ron and I stayed on that 1 km loop and skied laps. The skiing was much better but it still was a balance drill with the uneven firm surface hidden by the fresh snow. We skied during a moderate snowfall but after 5 laps the snow came down heavier and we retreated once again.

The Retreat:
We had used up most of the daylight but with the heavy snow falling we didn't want to drive over the pass in the dark. So we dried off, packed up and headed out. Another interesting challenge. The first thing we encountered was a semi stopped in the middle of the road while the driver put on chains. Naturally he had to do this at a curve.

Later, in another curvy section, and with the snow still falling hard a car came up behind me pretty fast. I'm guessing he couldn't see me in the snow and my taillights were plastered and most likely not visible. At the last second the car pulled to my left and passed me on a narrow curving stretch just east of Marias Pass. Fortunately no one was coming the other way at the time.

One out of the mountains the road improved although the winds continued to make things interesting with snow blowing sideways the rest of the way home.

The next morning my garage was a lake with snow still falling off my rig. I swept water and shoveled snow out of the garage. All I can say is, "That's life in Montana!"

Only 47 Days 'til the Birkie!

The Flu
Posted January 6, 2011

I had a wonderful Christmas and New Years that was highlighted by a visit from my daughter, son-in-law and grandson from Washington DC and my daughter and son-in-law from Shelby MT. Now I seem to be paying the price for all the happiness. I managed to come down with a good case of the flu. So I'm calling in sick this week and will return to posting next Monday.

In the meantime I hope all of you are enjoying a great ski season. Here in Montana the snow is perfect!

Only 51 Days 'til the Birkie!

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